Tuesday, November 30, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 39

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 24th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 39 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 22, Issue 39

Santa Barbara County set to open North County jail in December

By Taylor O'Connor

After a five-year delay, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Northern Branch Jail in Santa Maria on Nov. 18, with many county agencies and community members attending.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown spoke at the event, highlighting that the jail will bring enhanced safety and convenience for the community, better working conditions for staff, and more opportunities for “revitalized lives.”

“This has been a lengthy odyssey. It began as a quest for solutions to address the significant and chronic overcrowding in the Main Jail, but it evolved into a way of finding smarter and more effective ways to incarcerate and reform offenders, reduce recidivism, and make our community safer,” Brown said.  

Along with speaker Sheriff Bill Brown (pictured), guest speakers included fourth district supervisor Bob Nelson, retired Sheriff’s Commander Tom Jenkins, and California Department of Corrections Undersecretary Kevin Carruth.

The new facility will be able to house up to 376 inmates, and provides an additional 32 medical and mental health use beds. There’s also a medical clinic area—with hospital beds designed to decrease outpatient hospital visits for incarcerated inmates—a dedicated laundry area, a full-service kitchen, and intake and release areas to allow the jail to function as a stand-alone facility, according to the Sheriff’s Office. 

The Northern Branch Jail will also decrease jail booking times for local law enforcement agencies and will allow agencies to return to patrolling their communities quickly, Sheriff’s officials stated. 

Senior Project Manager John Green said he was glad to see the project’s completion after its many extended contracts and efforts. 

“It was a huge milestone for the county and the Sheriff’s Office. It’s a very complicated, complex, detailed project, and [we’re] very happy to be finishing this,” Green said. 

The initial $80 million in AB 900 project funding—a state grant—was awarded in 2012, and the project broke ground in September 2016 with the intention of completing the project in two years, but that didn’t happen, Green recalled. The project’s current cost is approximately $120 million, and the county is responsible for the remaining $40 million.

“We had a really wet winter early in 2016, and the site was super wet for months. [The site] was pretty much like a lake with a lot of sitting water,” Green said. “That was the initial delay, and the subsequent years we had additional weather delays with the roof incomplete.”

Along with weather delays, the original design architect’s company went out of business and left the project, causing Green and his team to find a new architect—which ended up in the hands of the Architectural Construction Administration. There were also many regulatory compliance issues with state board agencies—like needing additional smoke tampers and changes to glass glazing requirements, he said. Contracts and timelines continued to be renegotiated and rescheduled. 

“COVID did not help us. We experienced supply chain issues and staffing impacts due to COVID-19. It’s systemic of what everyone else has been experiencing,” he continued. “Getting supplies was difficult, building materials supplies going into the building [were] delayed, and there were staff impacts.”

The long journey to the jail’s opening—other than the pandemic—did not surprise Green because of the many different stakeholders involved and the project’s complexity. 

“We’ve come a long way and we’ve been through a lot of different situations that impacted the project,” Green said.

The Sheriff’s Office is currently conducting training at the new facility, and the jail is set to be fully operational by December 2021. The northern jail is located at 2301 Black Road, just outside Santa Maria city limits.

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